North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell’s college career could end in the same place it began with Sunday’s announcement that the Tar Heels will face South Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl held on Dec. 30 at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium.
The Heels beat the Gamecocks 24-20 at Bank of America Stadium in the 2019 season opener, which was Howell’s first game starting as a freshman. Howell has started every game except one since then. He is expected to forgo his final season of eligibility and turn pro, the question is when he makes his announcement.
All eyes will be on whether or not the junior from Indian Trail participates in the game. Howell, who has started 36 games over the past three seasons, participated in the Tar Heels’ senior day activities during their win over Wofford in the last game at Kenan Stadium this season.
Last season, UNC had four starters opt out of playing in the Orange Bowl in order to start preparing for the NFL draft. And that was a coveted spot in a New Year’s Six game and Javonte Williams, Michael Carter, Dyami Brown and Chazz Surratt were not projected to be picked as high as Howell is.
Charlotte is not the destination Carolina believed it was headed when it started the season ranked No. 10 in the Associated Press preseason poll. The Tar Heels quickly lost their lofty status with a 17-10 loss at Virginia Tech in the opener. Thus began a season-long trend of road losses — UNC went 0-5 away from Kenan Stadium.
The Heels never suffered two losses in a row during the season, but they only enjoyed back-to-back wins once. Since beating Georgia State and Virginia in consecutive weeks in September, UNC alternated losing then winning every game that followed. That pattern would mean that the Heels are due for a win now.
It’s the third straight bowl appearance for the Tar Heels and their first trip back to Charlotte in the postseason since the 2013 Belk Bowl. UNC’s 39-17 win over Cincinnati capped off a 2013 season that started off 1-5.
Charlotte hasn’t been a very welcoming place for the Heels in the post season. UNC lost its three other appearances there. Boston College beat the Heels 37-24 in the 2004 Continental Tire Bowl. West Virginia won 31-30 in the 2008 Meineke Car Care Bowl. And Pittsburgh beat them 19-17 in the 2009 Meineke Car Care Bowl.
UNC holds a 35-19-4 lead in the series with South Carolina, which dates back to 1903.